In the years prior to owning The Como Theatre, Stiles was a real estate agent in the Como district, helping to develop South Perth. His mother Arabella operated the Tea Gardens Hotel at the entrance of the Kensington Racecourse in Suburban Road (later renamed Mill Point Road).
In 1927, Stiles built the Gaiety Theatre in Angelo Street and with three others in the following year, took on the mortgage of the Grand Theatre in Murray Street. Regardless of a depression taking hold and enduring many to a life of poverty, the Gaiety Theatre was so popular, it led Stiles to build the Hurlingham Picture Gardens.
Impressively, Stiles sent boys on bicycles to switch the first night’s films playing at the Gaiety and Hurlingham Theatres, so that the second movie of the night had been playing at the other theatre.
Death of James Stiles
Sadly at the age of 56, young Stiles had a heart attack and passed away in January 1944. He’d served as a Gunner in the 36th Australian Heavy Artillery Brigade during the First World War and was fondly regarded for his “sporting record as a cricketer” and later years as “a very capable golfer”. Interestingly, his Grant of Right of Burial is listed with an expiry date of January 1, 1753.
The Como Theatre was taken control of by South Perth Theatres Pty Ltd, which was later amalgamated with City Theatres in 1968, although ownership of the Como Theatre remained with the Stiles family.
Mr Cyril Norton was appointed Director of the Grand Theatre Co Ltd in April 1944, which by this time, controlled the Piccadilly, Royal, Grand, Princess, Gaiety, Hurlingham and Como Theatres. Whilst the secretary of the East Perth Football Club, Norton in partnership with club patron William Haynes, put up money for a permanent cinema presence at Perth Oval after irregular weather-pending screenings were shown in the venue with patrons seated in the grandstand. Following the death of Haynes in 1945, Norton took over the business and later, alongside his role at the Grand Theatre Co Ltd. Norton died in October 1953, at the age of 62, which saw his son Graham take over his Manager role at the Premier.
It is difficult to ascertain when managing the Como Theatre or perhaps all the theatres in the Grand Theatre franchise was given to Stella McKenzie but by June 1953, she was referred to as the Proprietress.
The Deckchair Incident
In June 1953, a store keeper from Leederville, Lenore Flasinski, took legal action against Stella McKenzie, proprietress of the Como Theatre. Flasinski claimed that on January 4, 1952, the deckchair she’d been sitting on had collapsed, causing her to prematurely give birth. Claiming unspecified general damages at a sum of £83/- 10/3 as a result of fracturing her coccyx (a small triangular bone at the base of the spinal column), suffering shock, abrasions and bruising. This led to an operation to remove the broken bone from the coccyx. In her writ, Flasinski claimed that McKenzie “was negligent in allowing the faulty deck-chair to be used”.
The West Australian adds further details to what The Daily News had previously reported, saying that her husband had also fallen through the double seated deck chair. Sadly, Flasinski’s husband had since passed away in April 1952 (their engagement had only been made official in January 1951), leaving her a widow to their young child who was unable to breast feed due to Flasinski’s ulcers.
The writ for unspecified general damages was said to be “special damages for medical expenses and general damages”. The deckchair had been dangerous and defective “due to the material not being strong enough to hold both their weight.”
No further information can be found on the lawsuit, nor its end result.